A family support centre in Saint Peter Port, Guernsey, which provides assistance to families with children.

Welfare is a type of government support for the citizens of that society. Welfare may be provided to people of any income level, as with social security (and is then often called a social safety net), but it is usually intended to ensure that people can meet their basic human needs such as food and shelter. Welfare attempts to provide a minimal level of well-being, usually either a free- or a subsidized-supply of certain goods and social services, such as healthcare, education, and vocational training.[1]

A welfare state is a political system wherein the State assumes responsibility for the health, education, and welfare of society. The system of social security in a welfare state provides social services, such as universal medical care, unemployment insurance for workers, financial aid, free post-secondary education for students, subsidized public housing, and pensions (sickness, incapacity, old-age), etc.[1] In 1952, with the Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention (nr. 102), the International Labour Organization (ILO) formally defined the social contingencies covered by social security.

The first welfare state was Imperial Germany (1871–1918), where the Bismarck government introduced social security in 1889.[2] In the early 20th century, the United Kingdom introduced social security around 1913, and adopted the welfare state with the National Insurance Act 1946, during the Attlee government (1945–51).[1] In the countries of western Europe, Scandinavia, and Australasia, social welfare is mainly provided by the government out of the national tax revenues, and to a lesser extent by non-government organizations (NGOs), and charities (social and religious).[1]


In the U.S., welfare program is the general term for government support of the well-being of poor people, and the term social security has come to be referred to as US social insurance program for retired and disabled people even though social security is itself a retirement insurance plan paid for by taxes taken from the individual worker's payroll check and matched by his employer, no part of it is paid by the Federal Government. In other countries, the term social security has a broader definition, which refers to the economic security that a society offers when people are sick, disabled, and unemployed. In the U.K., government use of the term welfare includes help for poor people and benefits, including specific social services such as help in finding employment.[3]